by Paul Magno
There hasn’t been such a unisex reaction to a KO since Oscar De la Hoya brutally knocked out Rafael Ruelas back in 1995.
When WBC middleweight champ, Sergio “Maravilla” Martinez, knocked Paul Williams’ eyeballs into the back of his skull Saturday, the 20th, the feeling among many was that a superstar had been born. The girls swooned and the guys pumped their fists in support while grabbing the remote to re-watch the brutal KO.
Martinez, with his model good looks and fan-favorite fighting style, is made from the mold used to create crossover stars in boxing. Like De la Hoya before him, Martinez has the potential to bring in the elusive female demographic while still appealing to the male fan base.
However, unlike the 22-year old De la Hoya who knocked out the dangerous Ruelas, Martinez is a non-English speaking 35-year old veteran just starting to dig into the American market.
And, while Oscar had Julio Cesar Chavez and Pernell Whitaker, among others, waiting to add that last push to super-stardom, Martinez is pretty much alone at 160 with not a single marquee fight on the horizon.
Talks of Mayweather and Pacquiao were little more than daydreams. Neither would be willing to engage Martinez who, at this point, could also never get down to a reasonable catch weight in order to make such fights feasible.
Despite the Pacquiao/Mayweather pipe dream, Martinez’s best bet is to pursue rematches with his two most recent rivals, but even that is a real long shot– Kelly Pavlik is in rehab, treating an alcohol problemm and Paul Williams seems set on getting back down to 154 or 147.
Hardcore fans have been bringing up Dmitry Pirog, current WBO middleweight champ, who put Daniel Jacobs to sleep back in July. But dealing with the crafty Russian provides great risk for too little reward and, in any case, only the most die hard, obsessed boxing fan even knows about Pirog. Martinez-Pirog would be a tough sell and would do little to advance Martinez’s push to reach the next level.
Martinez vs. either reigning German world titlists, Felix Sturm or Sebastian Sylvester (especially Sturm, though) would be interesting and entertaining. But don’t expect the Germans to even pursue a unification with Martinez. And don’t expect Martinez to fight over in Germany when he’s just making his mark in the US.
Middleweight prospects, David Lemieux and Fernando Guerrero, could provide some real drama, but they are at least 2 to 3 years away from the main stage.
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. is Martinez’s #1 challenger according to the WBC and has enough of a name to provide some good publicity. However, Chavez’s people have spent the better part of a year trying to maneuver themselves around Martinez. Despite some lip service from Chavez Jr., the only way you’ll see the two in the ring is via gunpoint.
Recent rumors have mentioned Irish prospect, Andy Lee as a potential opponent and, also, a possible 155 lb. catchweight bout against Miguel Cotto. At this point, neither fight would likely be competitive and, if promoter Bob Arum’s words are to be believed, Cotto isn’t even considering such a fight.
The rest of the lot at 160 lbs. is made up of unknown, unproven European prospects and recycled American fighters.
That leaves very little for Martinez to build upon. At 35 years of age, he has maybe 2-3 solid years left and not a single legacy-defining, fame-building fight to make from here on out.
Because of the buzz generated by the Williams KO (the show was HBO’s 2nd highest rated boxing show of the year, next to Cotto-Yuri Foreman– a little misleading, though, since Martinez-Williams was attached to the Pacquiao-Margarito rebroadcast), HBO will likely air any fight Martinez chooses. But the need is there for a follow-up that will help him get to the next level.
And, again, there’s just nowhere for Martinez to go.
So, while Sergio Martinez has the looks, talent, and style to become the next-level star boxing needs behind Pacquiao and Mayweather, it looks as though boxing’s latest Maravilla has gone as far as he will go.